Top college majors for finding full-time work
A college degree – for many – is the first major financial decision, and picking a major that is highly employable is one way to improve the odds of making a return on that investment more quickly.
There's been a recent push for college students to "know before you go" on understanding labor market performance for a particular degree, says Jeff Strohl, director of research at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.
"It's become more critical for them to look at this data when making a decision because of the cost of education and the possibility of student debt," the researcher says, who stresses the importance of financial literacy when picking a degree. "There's nothing wrong with going into art, just realize what it gets you."
Cam Smith, 22, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, says he weighed employment prospects when selecting a double major. The recent Georgetown grad combined his marketing major with operations and information management, which he says was "definitely a calculated process."
"I looked at something that would allow me to do what I wanted to do – which is work in marketing, but would also help me make a little more money with my first job and raise my chance at employment," Smith says.
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Smith found employment quickly after college with a full-time marketing job at Fundrise, a technology startup in Washington, D.C., for real estate investing, who says he picked operations and information management since it was more "forward-looking" compared with a more traditional business management major.
According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers on projected employment for recent college grads, information management and marketing are two majors in-demand by employers. And the most sought-after bachelor's degree are accounting, computer science, finance, business administration and mechanical engineering.
|Top bachelor's degrees by demand||College major||Percent that plan to hire|
|6||Information Sciences and Systems||41.7|
|7||Management Information Systems||40.6|
Source: Job Outlook 2016, National Association of Colleges and Employers
Edwin Koc, a research director at the association, says: "You'll probably have a higher salary and a job more quickly with one of these majors."
In choosing a college major, here are a couple ways to evaluate a degree's employment prospects.
1. Look at projected labor outcomes: "The occupational projections out by the Bureau of Labor, while historically poor on the education required, are good at projecting job growth," says Strohl from Georgetown's CEW.
Accounting, for example, is expected to grow 11 percent by 2024, according to the most recent data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on employment projections, adding 142,400 jobs between 2014 and 2024.
Information science management and fields such as data management are other areas that will continue to soar with the explosion of data usage in the "tech world," Strohl says.
Computer and information systems management is projected to expand by 15 percent from 2014 to 2024 with an additional 50,000 workers entering the field, the BLS predicts.
2. Check whether the school posts employment data on recent graduates: Colorado, Tennessee, Florida and Texas are a few states that publish earnings for recent grads from state institutions and job growth in different sectors.
The University of Colorado—Boulder, for instance, began its first alumni survey in 1989 and publishes graduate data on its website. Alumni surveys from universities such as CU—Boulder are generally reported back to national surveys, which show an overall picture on employment for recent grads, says Koc.
Alumni data posted on such websites and College Measures are intended to help prospective students make more informed choices, workforce researchers say.
"But they don't guide anyone," says Strohl, who adds counseling students on this data is a couple of years away. "Counseling is at the cusp – on the whole – for adopting labor market information to students. It's going to become really big in the next 1 to 5 years."
3. Compare the return on investment for a degree: "The ability to get hired is very important," says Katie Bardaro, PayScale's lead economist. "Jobs that are in demand will typically see a higher compensation."
And that trend is reflected in ROI since the return for in-demand professions is typically higher as a result, the lead economist explains.
The PayScale College ROI tool is based on educational choices and takes into account the cost of obtaining that degree over time. It's a tool for students to compare programs and figure out projected opportunities upon graduating with a particular degree, she says.
But some experts caution prospective students that ROI tools only capture a partial picture and use a limited amount of data to project future outcomes.
"No one can predict what exactly your earning potential will be," Bardaro says, while stressing the importance of looking at data for college majors. "But the more information you provide yourself with on specific education choices, the more informed decision you're going to make."
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Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report